Saturday, December 14, 2013

Escaping into a different world

Once upon a time a devoted father wrote letters to his son who was deployed to Africa while fighting in one of the two great world wars. The letters were stories of a world of fantasy, hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves, dragons and so much more. Many years later those stories became The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. That evolved into a universe of books, cartoons, toys, video games and blockbuster Hollywood movies. The world became further acquainted with Middle Earth with the three Lord of the Rings books became movies in the early 2000s. Now, we find ourselves two-thirds of the way through The Hobbit, 10 years later in our lives, but 60 years earlier in Bilbo's life.

Many people talk about it from a movie-goers perspective. Others talk about it from the perspective of fans of the books. There are some of us who live in Middle Earth in our minds. There are some of us who can give you directions from Bag-end in Hobbiton, a town in the Shire to The Last Homely House in Rivendell, if you felt so inclined to make the trip to visit Elrond Halfelven. We'd warn you about going beyond those borders, as the Misty Mountains are more dangerous than Led Zeppelin let on when they mentioned it in their song. We see big towers in the world and imagine them as Minas Morgul and want to hear the horn of Gondor bellow in real life.

People like us reach a level of fandom reserved for the nerdiest of nerds. The respect I have for J.R.R. Tolkein is immeasurable for 2 reasons. The first is simple. He defined a genre. He didn't create dwarves or elves or wizards, but he certainly outlined the images we use for them today. And some of the creatures are of his own creation. That's a mind that cannot be compared to. That's the least important reason why I love him.

Once upon another time, decades after Tolkein wrote these for his son, there was another dad. His son fell ill with a simple appendicitis. Unfortunately that 7-10 day stay (as it was at the time) was stretched into a full month of August (or just shy by a few days). The medical complications made that hospital stay full of more pitfalls and double-backs than a Hobbit's adventure. This son was 11 years old and terrified.

His mom was by his side caring for him. Friends and well wishers brought gifts and flowers and toys and cards and jokes and smiles. All of those things raised his spirits while he remained in the hospital.

At one point his dad decided to sit by his bedside every day for a little bit of time; with a book. The dad opened his very own copy of The Hobbit from many years earlier and began to read it to his son. His dad was replete with voices and inflection. More than reading the words to his son, the dad told the story to his son. For that amount of time each day, his son left the hospital and traveled to Middle Earth.

Once again these tales had come alive from a father to a son in crisis. Once again, these stories enhanced a relationship and saved a son while Hobbits saved Middle Earth.

To this day, his dad remembers this son laying on his side, eyes wide to absorb the visual imagery written by Tolkein, delivered by his dad.

To this day I remember my dad's voice as he read it to me.

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